Written by Ramy Srour
On October 22, Amnesty International published a groundbreaking report on U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. Titled “Will I be next? US drone strikes in Pakistan,” the report accuses the U.S. government of engaging in unlawful practice and of having carried out acts—drone strikes—that may amount to war crimes. The content of the report has very serious implications for U.S. policy.
The report’s release last week came at a critical time, as Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was in Washington for his first official visit since he took office last June.
On Wednesday, the day after the report was launched, Mr. Sharif met U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House. The subject of drone strikes was bound to come up, and it did. Prior to his meeting with the U.S. president, Mr. Sharif had already held a speech at the Washington-based U.S. Institute of Peace, an independent national security institution.
At the USIP, and at other public appearances during his four-day visit, Mr. Sharif publicly urged the U.S. government to put an end to these strikes that have so far killed dozens of innocent civilians.
And again, in the Oval Office, Mr. Sharif personally emphasized to President Obama “the need for an end to such strikes,” according to a press statement released by the White House after the meeting.
On October 23, U.S. President Obama and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Sharif met at the White House and discussed, among other things, U.S. drone strikes in North Waziristan [Photo credit: The Associated Press]
In the aftermath of these numerous—and at times, forceful—calls to stop drone strikes by Mr. Sharif, one would be led to think that the government of Pakistan truly wishes for this practice to stop.
However, The Washington Post recently obtained secret documents revealing that the government in Islamabad has been—and is still—engaged in a wholly different strategy. According to the Post, Pakistan’s government has always known about the strikes and has consistently authorized them.
The CIA memos obtained by the newspaper also reveal that Pakistani authorities were regularly briefed by the U.S. government on most drone strikes between 2007 and 2011, on their casualties, and on the extent to which they had successfully targeted al-Qaeda militants.
The Washington Post’s revelations and Mr. Sharif’s explicit calls to end the practice paint a very confusing and unclear picture: the Pakistani government seems to be criticizing a practice it has always been aware of, and more worryingly, that it has always endorsed.
The problem is that Amnesty International’s report lays most of the burden on the U.S. government and its practices; but the recent revelations suggest that Islamabad should be held equally accountable.
True enough, in the report Amnesty International calls on the Pakistani government to “[p]ublicly disclose information on all US drone strikes that the Pakistani authorities are aware of, including casualties and all assistance provided to victims.” But the report is undeniably aimed at the U.S. government, as the human rights group adamantly urges “U.S. authorities [to] fully disclose the facts.” These tilted accusations may not be enough, however.
For obvious reasons, the U.S. government apparatus currently holds the bulk of the classified information pertaining to these strikes. A call for the U.S. government to release this information, although unlikely to be heeded in the near future, makes sense.
But the call should be equally adamant for the Pakistani authorities. The tacit agreement between Islamabad and Washington has rendered the Pakistani government equally accountable for the strikes and for the deaths of innocent civilians they have provoked. So far, much of the attention has focused on the White House.
The family of Rafiq-ur-Rahman, whose 68-year old mother was killed by a U.S. drone strike while she was picking vegetables. Hers is one of the cases at the center of Amnesty International’s report. [Photo credit: Amnesty International]
The reason behind this unbalanced outcry seems to stem from the recent tsunami of criticism that has shaken the perceived integrity of several other U.S. government practices, including NSA surveillance of its own citizens, of citizens of allied countries, and of allied countries’ leaders’—personal!—phone calls.
Over the past months, the media have indiscriminately picked on these practices and painted a very grim picture of the Obama Administration. Although unpleasant, this is still very healthy, because it has led to a debate that is the very essence of any free country that wishes to be called free.
But now it’s time to better fine-tune the criticism. The U.S. government has surely a lot to be blamed for, but it has at least admitted to its practice and has recognized that civilians may have been killed. [Note, though, that the U.S. government has refused to recognize most of the attacks that have been carried out so far].
After the recent revelations, however, it is hard to ignore that the Pakistani government has been deeply involved in all this.
A U.S. drone in flight [Photo credit: U.S. Air Force]
Last week at the USIP, Mr. Sharif said that U.S. drone strikes “have deeply disturbed and agitated our people” and that they have “become a major irritant in our [U.S.-Pakistan] bilateral relations.” And to dispel all doubts, he concluded by calling “for an end to drone strikes.”
It’s hard to understand why the government currently receiving most of the criticism is the one that has conducted the practice without, at least, publicly denying it.
- Amnesty criticizes US drone program in Pakistan (bigstory.ap.org)
- Row over Drones Turns Out to Be Kabuki Theatre (ipsnews.net)